Cross-border booze appeal a chance to hit reset on interprovincial trade, MP says
Dan Albas urges Canadians to contact their MPs about case of an N.B. 'hero' now heading to Supreme Court
A Conservative MP in British Columbia is urging Canadians to contact their members of Parliament about the New Brunswick case involving cross-border alcohol limits that heads to the Supreme Court of Canada in December.
Dan Albas, who previously fought for interprovincial wine trade, says the case of Gerard Comeau is an opportunity for the country to "hit the reset button" on interprovincial trade as a whole.
The Fathers of Confederation felt that Canada shouldn't just be a political union, but an economic one.- Dan Albas, Conservative MP
"In today's economy, I think most Canadians would say they want to see greater choice in the marketplace," said Albas, who represents Central Okanagan–Similkameen–Nicola.
"And so they want to see a little less authority in the provincial liquor boards and some of these provincial marketing boards that have been set up over time and a little bit more power to the consumers."
New Brunswick prosecutors are appealing the acquittal of Comeau, a retired NB Power lineman from Tracadie, who was fined $292.50 for exceeding the province's alcohol importation limit in 2012 when he drove home from Quebec with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor in his vehicle.
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Virtually all provinces and territories have strict limits on how much alcohol individuals can bring across a provincial border. In New Brunswick, the Liquor Control Act sets a personal importation limit of 12 pints of beer or one bottle of liquor or wine.
But Campbellton provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc ruled last year that the liquor restriction was unconstitutional because Section 121 of the 1867 Constitution Act says products from any province "shall … be admitted free into each of the other provinces."
In documents filed with the Supreme Court of Canada on Aug. 18, New Brunswick prosecutors argue upholding Comeau's acquittal would "propose an end to Canadian federalism as it was originally conceived, has politically evolved and is judicially confirmed."
Albas said those arguments amount to making noise.
"There's an old saying — if the law's on your side, argue the law, if the facts are on your side, argue the facts and if the law, and the facts aren't on your side, just pound on the table," he said.
"And that's really what they're doing here. They're pounding the table because they know at the end of the day, they have a very weak case to rely on."
He called Comeau "a Canadian hero" for opening the debate on the contentious issue.
Albas said it's "ludicrous" Canada has "freer trade" with Europe and the United States than between provinces and he argued the current interprovincial trade barriers come at a cost to both the economy and consumer choice.
"The Fathers of Confederation felt that Canada shouldn't just be a political union, but an economic one," he said.
"I hope [Canadians] take the time to let their member of Parliament know that that's how they would like their federal government to respond to the Comeau case."
The attorneys general of Canada, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Northwest Territories, and the minister of justice of Nunavut have all filed to be interveners in the case.
Because it deals with the Constitution, it's an automatic right, a Supreme Court of Canada spokesperson said.
Additional parties could still file notification of intervention. The deadline is Sept. 15.
2-day hearings rare
The appeal is scheduled to be heard on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7.
The top court hasn't had a two-day hearing for nearly three years, since the case of terror suspect Mohamed Harkat, according to an official in the registry office. The Supreme Court upheld the national security certificate against Harkat in May 2014, rejecting his constitutional challenge.
Normally, oral submissions are limited to five minutes per intervener, but no time limits have yet been set, according to the court official.
The interveners have until Oct. 13 to file their written submissions. They had requested an extension until Nov. 30, but in an order dated July 14, Justice Rosalie Abella set the deadline.
Sky hasn't fallen yet
Albas expects the attorneys general will "paint the Chicken Little scenario," arguing there won't be enough money for hospitals, schools and roads if provincial borders are opened up.
He said that's what they asserted when he brought forward Bill C311, the Free My Grapes bill, to allow wine transfer between provinces.
But "the sky didn't fall."
British Columbia has actually seen year-over-year growth in the wine industry, despite having opened up its borders, Albas said.